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10 At-Home Hair Color Secrets Straight from the Pros

Your cheat sheet for a flawless, salon-worthy dye job.


Manhattan's most sought-after color experts (grudgingly) reveal their secrets for getting $800 results—from minor tone tweaks to platinum makeovers—at home.

Alternating Between Salon and At-Home Treatments

To save money and time, Ted Gibson's master colorist Jason Backe recommends spacing pricy salon splurges out every few months and using a DIY single process (one coat of color with no highlights, lowlights, or other frills) in between visits.

"Pro highlights can blend out any of your amateur mistakes," he says. But if you're really devoted to DIY, try painting thin streaks on the hair just beneath your part and a quarter of an inch from the hairline (to hide any obvious lines of demarcation). "You'll get beautiful dimension and lightness, and no eyesores."

Revlon Colorsilk Beautiful Color, $3; walgreens.com.

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Choosing the Right Color

A single process is simple to do yourself, as long as you're not going for a dramatic transformation. How to find the right shade?

"My rule of thumb is only go two shades lighter or darker than your natural hair," says Brad Johns, national color director for Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spas. "To choose the right box at the store, check the chart on the side of the package. If you don't see your natural tone on the chart, the formula's probably not right for you."

For a Level 3 hair color kit that will last for weeks at a time, opt for a moisturizing formula like L'Oréal Paris Excellence Crème, $9; ulta.com.

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The 411 on Hair Gloss Treatments

Glossing is the easiest service to do on your own, plus it's less damaging than a normal dye job (and lasts around six weeks). A gloss treatment helps with sun and salt damage during the summer and deep conditions strands for a healthier shine.

"A gloss is very acidic and closes the hair and the cuticle real tight. The result is a very smooth surface texture that will reflect a lot more light and have a much softer feel to it," says Paul Cucinello of Chris Chase Salon.

Clairol Natural Instincts Shine Happy, $9; clairol.com.

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When to Use a Semi-Permanent Dye

If you need a subtle tone adjustment, a semi-permanent wash lasts 12 shampoos and re-invigorates washed-out color. Try a brass-fighting product like this John Frieda Color Treatment product that will bump your hair up one shade: it's mess-free and won't stain your tub after-the-fact. To neutralize orange, look for a cool-toned, ashy shade.

John Frieda Brilliant Brunette Visibly Deeper Color Deepening Treatment, $10; amazon.com.

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Why Color Conditioners Are *Essential*

The trick to using semi-permanent dyes is to apply the solution to wet hair for a sheer application of pigment—dry strands absorb more dye, reveals Backe. "This is what we do in the salon: Leave it on for three minutes, rinse a section, then check the color. If it's not deep enough, you can always leave it on longer."

After treatment, follow up in the next few weeks with a conditioner that will nourish your strands and preserve your new color.

Redken Color Extend Conditioner, $20; amazon.com.

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Boosting Tone with a Color-Based Shampoo

Most color kits contain the same percentage of peroxide, enough to take you two shades lighter.

However, if you're a dark brunette with blonde ambition, consider this advice from Backe: "A regular blonde kit doesn't have enough peroxide, so you'll end up with ugly orange hair. But some formulas, like Clairol's Born Blonde, contain more ammonia and peroxide to lighten hair further—and more violet tones to neutralize gold."

To prevent brassiness, use a violet- or blue-based shampoo designed for blondes at least once a week.

Aveeda Blue Malva Shampoo, $36; aveeda.com.

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Keeping Color-Treated Hair Healthy

If you've lightened your hair in the past, going deeper than two shades is difficult to do yourself. "If hair has been previously lightened, the warm orange, yellow, and red tones have been removed. When you add a darker color, the cool tones will be more obvious and you'll end up with green- or gray-looking hair," warns Backe.

To soften the inevitable damage from color-correcting over-processed hair, protect your tresses in between treatments with a recovery hair mask that's filled with nourishing natural oils.

Neutrogena Triple Moisture Deep Recovery Hair Mask, $17; amazon.com.

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Temporary Touch-Ups

Temporary touch-up products now come in an array of shades and are a foolproof way to camouflage a few gray areas at your roots. For all-day dry coverage that easily slips into your purse, try this powder compact from Color Wow. It tidily settles in your hair follicles and stays put.

And if you need a speedy touch-up at your roots that lasts for weeks, try a kit with a dedicated precision brush for evenly applying color like Clairol's Nice n' Easy Root Touchup.

Color Wow Root Cover Up, $35; ulta.com.

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All-Over Gray Treatment

For all-over gray treatment, choose a single-process, permanent color like Garnier Nutrisse Nourishing Color Creme.

To prevent too much dark saturation on previously dyed ends, Backe suggests coating only new growth. "When you're done processing, wet the hair, then run the product that's on your scalp through to your ends. Just leave it on for a minute for a glaze-like effect."

If you want the look of highlights without the hard work (and you're not 100 percent gray), try using a semi-permanent. The dye will deposit a sheer coat of color only on grays for a sparkly effect. The more grays you have, the more highlights you'll get.

Garnier Nutrisse Nourishing Color Creme, $8; ulta.com.

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Going All-Natural

If you're concerned about all the chemicals (like ammonia and lead acetate) that run rampant in common hair dye kits, there's a green solution to them that works like gangbusters. Naturtint's natural formula is free of harsh chemicals and dye addicts swear by its moisturizing ingredients (sunflower, lemon, wheat, and oak included).

Naturtint Permanent Hair Colorant, $16; drugstore.com.

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